Questions aplenty

The Bears head into the 2003 season loaded with questions. They went from a surprising 13-3 2001 to a disappointing 4-12 2002 in the blink of an eye. Most experts believe they were neither as good as 2001 nor as bad as 2002, but somewhere in between. In thinking about how 2003 will play out, a number of questions come to mind. In preparation for the season, let's take a closer look at 10 big questions. We'll look at 5 this week, and 5 the next:

1. Will there be any major cuts prior to the season starting, now that Marcus Robinson and James Williams are gone?

Most signs were pointing to one of the defensive tackles being released. However, recent reports quoting various Bear sources have endorsed their retention. The Bears are in a fairly strong cap situation, so cutting a player for purely monetary reasons is less than likely. It would likely need to be a player they no longer feel a need for, which would point to an earlier cut. Since that appears to have already happened, it might be a rather uneventful couple months leading up to the season. Additionally, the pending ruling on whether or not Bryan Robinson serves a suspension makes cutting any front-line talent less of a possibility.

There won't be any shortage of arms in camp to man the quarterback position. The depth chart likely will be Stewart, Chandler and Grossman. If anyone stands a chance of getting cut among them, it's likely Chandler. The way this could happen is if Burris or Sauter show enough promise to beat out Chandler, and if Grossman is so impressive he earns the second position on the depth chart. This is unlikely, especially with Burris suffering an injury in NFL Europe, but stranger things have happened.

2. Of the many injuries from last season, will any linger into 2003/2004?

There are early indications that Marc Colombo's knee might be a problem. Although being downplayed, there has to be concern here, since neither Columbo nor Gandy have the playing experience at a high level to NOT be question marks going into this season, even if fully healthy. It was a bit of a surprise that John Davis' back was bothering him during mini-camps. Fortunately, the addition of Desmond Clark makes that less of a concern. Other than that, things are looking up for players like Phillip Daniels, Warrick Holdman, Bryan Robinson, Ted Washington, David Terrell, Rex Tucker, Dustin Lyman, R.W. McQuarters, Chris Villarrial, and Anthony Thomas.

A watchful eye will need to be kept on players like Terrell, Lyman, and Holdman. All of them have had recurring injuries. Interestingly enough, General Manager Jerry Angelo has addressed depth at all 3 positions in the off season through the draft and free agency.

3. Will the new Soldier Field and the schedule in place to open it after the season is a month old become a hindrance?

All indications are that the Bears will be thrilled to be back at their new/old home. Although the preseason games will still be at the University of Illinois, this will be easier to deal because of their experience there, and the knowledge that soon they will be in Chicago.

From a different perspective, there are still concerns about the stadium in Champaign, even if it's only for preseason games. Several players have complained that the surface is difficult to gain a footing on, and that because of its underlying construction, it was hellacious to play on it during August's heat. It will be interesting to see if any of this comes into play during the preseason, and if some of the playing time of the starters is impacted by the venue.

4. Can Kordell Stewart find a home with the Bears?

This is probably the biggest question facing the team's offense. Stewart had a moderate amount of success in Pittsburgh, but was still cut loose in favor of a journeyman quarterback. There has been a lot of research around how a quarterback matures after a number of seasons, and if Stewart's recent seasons are any indicator, he's making the progression necessary to be a good quarterback for the Bears. On the other hand, this will be his first change of teams as a professional, which might slow down this progress. It's important to note, however, that Stewart has had a number of different Offensive Coordinators while at Pittsburgh, so it's not like he hasn't had to learn new plays and offensive nomenclature before.

5. Can John Shoop's offense, with the current cast of players, get the job done?

This is a huge question mark. Apart from Stewart, the questions abound with players like Dez White and Anthony Thomas, as well as the relative inexperience at the tackle position, on both edges of the line. Further, Shoop's game planning and play calling have been questioned nonstop since his promotion to Offensive Coordinator two seasons ago. It's often overlooked that Shoop took a team averaging 13 points per game under Gary Crowton in 2000 and got 21 per contest in 2001. The team stepped backwards in 2002, averaging around 18. An excuse could be the rash of injuries to every unit on the field. Barring any outrageous injury crisis, this will be Shoop's season to prove whether or not he belongs.

It won't matter if Shoop's play calling is predictable, if the execution is sound and the results are first downs, points on the board, and wins. The best teams are the ones that dictate the tempo of the game, to the point where the opposition knows what's coming, and still can't do anything about it. But if the plays are predictable, and the results are turnovers, too few touchdowns to mention, and losses, he'll be ridden out on a rail.

Bear Report Top Stories